A Vision of Albina

I don’t believe the Eliot News has ever printed a book review; however, Mitchell Jackson is a product of the neighborhood (raised in King) and the book is a memoir about growing up in Albina.

The recently published book, Survival Math, reminded me of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Blue Highways, although was not well written. All three are male confessionals with significant philosophical, literary, and psychological digressions from the authors’ troubled, male perspective. Zen and Highways use interstate travel as a frame, while Math’s frame is Inner N/NE Portland and Vancouver and places of significance to the author and others in his circle of friends and relatives during the 1980-2000 era.

I am not drawn to memoirs, but Mitchell’s interview on OPB piqued my curiosity. I moved to Eliot in the late 1970s, about the time Mitchell was born. His recollections of life in Albina are consistent with my own. In contrast to a current myth being promoted, Albina in the 1960-2000 period was not Wakanda on the Willamette, but the locus for “prostitution”, drugs, and gang shootings and murders. This lawlessness was tolerated, perhaps even encouraged, to confine it to Albina and protect the rest of the (largely white) city. Mitchell describes his role in this mayhem. Although he was a bit player, he was imprisoned for multiple years. He talks about drug dealing, “pimping”, and “gangbanging” from the inside with as much honesty as he can without, I suspect, confessing to additional offenses. His digressions include history lessons on slavery, the origins of Portland gangs, and the night life of Portland’s Black underworld. He also explores the philosophical and psychological roots for his and his community’s behavior rooted in America’s systemic racism and paternalism. He takes responsibility for the disruption he caused, including about 60 pages of reflection on his abuse of women.

This book is an important contribution to the history of Albina and of Portland. The community he describes was one of struggling families and choices made to survive in the face of an establishment that either ignored or actively targeted it. It isn’t a complete history because it is a personal narrative. Although he comments on the contributions the Rose Quarter, I-5, Emanuel, and Blanchard projects made to dissolution of the Black community in Albina formed after the Vanport flood. It doesn’t cover the decline of Union/MLK in the 1960s and 70s and its subsequent home for prostitution and heroin dealing. He did not experience that history. The local narrative ends when Mitchell leaves for school and his career as a professor and author in New York.

Periodically Mitchell returns to Portland. During a recent book tour he visited his old neighborhood during his interview on OPB. He was asked about the obvious transformation since his life there. I was stuck by his response. Rather than bemoaning what was lost, he compared it to the transformation of the largely German/ Northern European community by the Black population that moved to Albina in the late 1940s and 50s. In other words, he described the change as a normal part of urban development. He also noted it was obviously much safer than in his day, and that was a positive development. He did recognize some of his neighbors but added many from his former life are likely dead or in jail, a sobering vision of Albina as it really was.

Oregon Property Taxation 101

The earlier column “Taxed to Death? – Part 1 of 2” provided some history for how Eliot finds itself at the center of a policy debate about inequitable property tax payments by residents in newly “gentrified” areas and potential risks to us/them presented by some Legislative discussions. There was fear at the time the Legislature would make changes that would radically increase taxes in Eliot. That is not likely in this legislative session, but there is a proposal to revise how property taxes are levied that may have that result. The proposal hasn’t passed and just calls for a study to set the stage for that change. Because it hasn’t passed, Part 2 of “Taxed to Death” is postponed for now. Instead, this column provides a summary of the current assessment process. It also responds to a number of questions that have been asked about the prior column.

The State Department of Revenue is responsible for ensuring uniform taxation of properties in the state, although actual taxes are levied and collected at the county level. The guidelines for all counties are similar. Properties are assessed at “real market value” (RMV) using a common set of guidelines for property assessment; however, these are subject to adjustments by each county to reflect actual market conditions. That includes applying different criteria in different neighborhoods and in rural versus urban areas to capture market price trends. Property assessments are to be complete by September 25th each year and bills sent a month later. The tax year runs from July to July. The tax bill you receive in October is based on the Assessor’s estimate of RMV as of January 1st. So, if the Assessor calculated RMV for your neighborhood and your house in April, they adjust that value to what they believe it would have been on January 1. That establishes the RMV and for the tax bill in October. For structures without any modifications, “improvements” in tax language, this method is used for all comparable properties. A different method is used if improvements have been made after the previous tax year. As noted in the prior column, the property taxes that are due are subject to a tax cap established by Measure 50 in 1997, which was a Constitutional amendment and can’t be changed without a public vote. Measure 50 essentially froze the “tax assessed value” at the RMV in 1997, plus an allowed inflation adjustment. Properties that pre-date 1997 have their value (but not their taxes) capped as of 1997. The county is still required to reassess the RMV every year, it just can’t use the current RMV to calculate the tax bill, with one exception; if there are newly constructed “improvements.” New construction IS assessed at RMV; however, Measure 50 limits the “tax assessed value” to a fraction of that, roughly 60%.

There are two situations where a tax reassessment may occur. The first is when improvements are made to an existing structure, such as a new deck. The other is when a wholly new structure is added to an existing property. In the case of the new deck, the assessor estimates how much the new deck adds to the RMV and increases the value of the existing building by that amount. For example, assume your house has an RMV at $200,000 and the deck is estimated to add $50,000 to that.  You will be taxed for an improvement of $50,000. Where this gets tricky is when the “assessed value” for tax purposed is wildly different than the RMV; namely, homes built prior to Measure 50. In that case, the “tax assessed value” of the existing home may be $50,000, in which case the new deck would increase it. Assuming a Measure 50 cap of 60%, to $80,000 and nearly double the amount of taxes owed. The same is true for a wholly new structure, such as an ADU.

For new construction, the assessor will probably use a “cost” method to calculate the RMV. In other words, how much it cost to build the structure rather than its market value. The state provides cost guidance so this estimate is uniform across all new structures (with local cost adjustments). Returning to the example above, if a new ADU valued at $200,000 is added to the property instead of the $50,000 deck, the new assessed value will be $170,000 ($50,000 for the Measure 50 assessed value of the existing building plus 60% of the new $200,000 ADU; another $120,000).  The new tax bill will be over 3 times the previous bill.  

New construction presents a taxation challenge to both the assessor and the taxpayer; you. Recall that assessed values are based on the situation on January 1st. If construction began in June, there would be no improvements as of January 1, since construction hadn’t begun. So your October tax bill wouldn’t reflect the new addition. If the ADU is completed within the calendar year, its value would be added in the next year, and show up in the tax bill in the next October, over a year after construction began. If construction takes 12-months or is spread across two years, this process also extends two years. In that case, the assessed value during first July-to-July tax year is based on the value of the structure as it was on January 1 of the next calendar year. For a project started in June, that would be what was completed over the 6 previous months; an amount less than the value of the finished project. Assuming it is only 50% complete, the new assessed value would be half the value of the completed project. In our example, that would be $100,000 (of the $200,000 total cost) and would be reflected in the October tax bill the year after construction started.  Once the project is finished, the value the would be assessed at the full $200,000, but that wouldn’t show up until the next calendar year’s tax bill, because it won’t be until that tax year that the project will be complete as of January 1st. This lag in tax billing surprises many taxpayers as the see jumps in their taxes over multiple years; nothing in the year construction begins, a jump in the next year when construction is complete, and then yet another jump a year after the project finished. This last adjustment usually catches people by surprise.  

Assessors monitor improvements to existing structures and land through building permits, site visits, record checks, and notices from the population, say a neighbor. Untaxed improvements, called “omitted records,” result when discrepancies are found between the assessor’s records and field inspections. This can happen when construction was done without permits; however, all construction doesn’t require permits. It can also happen through errors in communication of construction activity between permit authorities and the county and mistakes in the assessment. In those cases, the assessor has the right to reassess RMV for the 5 prior tax years. When that occurs, the taxpayer is sent a notice that provides 20-days to correct an erroneous record.  A corrected assessment, including a bill for the 5-years owed, will follow. The taxpayer has a limited time to appeal the assessment, as it can for any tax bill. One problem with property taxation is that it is unlike income or sales taxes. We are used to the income tax process where we self-report our income and taxes and the IRS is responsible for any audits and tax adjustments after the fact. In the case of property taxes, the Assessor sets the tax amount and the property owner is responsible for verifying it is correct, and appealing if they feel it is not. In other words, property owners play the role of “tax auditor” to the assessor, which is just the reverse of what we know from income taxes.  

Taxed to Death? Part 1 of 2

By Mike Warwick

Introduction

It’s winter, a time for holiday cards and, less welcome, property tax bills. This time next year you may look back fondly at your tax bill as the Governor, Speaker of the House, and legislators from Beaverton and Hood River have all indicated they want to revisit our property tax system. Their public justification is that “gentrification” has resulted in “those homeowners” not “paying their fair share.” Of course, “gentrification” is a code word for homeowners in inner N/NE Portland; namely, us. To see how this might affect you and your neighbors, look at the difference between the “assessed value” and “market value” of your home. “Reform” will likely reset assessed value to market value so the difference (currently about 4 times for an older Eliot home), is how much taxes could increase; 400%!

Continue reading Taxed to Death? Part 1 of 2

Carried Away on a Bird

By Mike Warwick

montse-on-scooter.DPI_600.jpg
Mike Warwick’s scooter partner Montse Shepherd enjoying a fall day
on a Bird. Photo credit Mike Warwick

Being a senior citizen leads me to avoid risky behavior. I was never a skateboarder and my few attempts at rollerblading ended in scrapes and torn trousers. The idea of balancing on a narrow, two-wheeled platform that moved seemed insane. However, the recent favorable report about Portland’s scooter trial forced me to accept a neighbor’s invitation to test drive one. Like many residents, I begrudge riders on sidewalks, scooters blocking sidewalks, and worse, blocking curb cuts for strollers and wheelchairs. However, the report indicated users surveyed believe these could address the “last mile” problem keeping more city residents from using mass transit or their personal vehicle. So, time to put myself at risk to determine the truth for myself.

Continue reading Carried Away on a Bird

Review of Better Housing by Design and Residential Infill Draft Reports

There are two new proposals for changes to zoning codes in residential zones; Better Housing by Design and the Residential Infill project.  The recently (almost) completed Comprehensive Plan process changed “zoning;” where housing, commercial, and industrial uses can be located and the level of development intensity in each.  Residential zones are split between “single family” zones (R2.5, R5, and R10) and “multi-family zones” (R3, R2, R1, and RH) – each zone is listed from lowest to highest development density.  Roughly half of Eliot’s residential lots are expected to be rezoned to R 2.5 from the current R2 zone. The rest of Eliot’s residential zones are R 2 or higher. In addition, most of the properties along MLK and Williams/Vancouver are zoned CM for mixed use projects up to 65’ tall.

Continue reading Review of Better Housing by Design and Residential Infill Draft Reports

LUTC Meeting Minutes 2017-04-10

Eliot Neighborhood Association

Land Use and Transportation Committee

Meeting Minutes from April 10, 2016, respectively submitted by Mike Warwick, Vice-Chair

Meeting was called to order by Chair Allan Rudwick at 7:10 PM

A quorum of the Committee was present, including Clint, Allan, Phil, Laurie and myself.  Also preset were Nan Stark from Planning and residents Rebecca, Sara, and Ian.

Continue reading LUTC Meeting Minutes 2017-04-10

LUTC Minutes 2016-11-14

Eliot Land Use and Transportation Committee
Minutes for November 14, 2016
Submitted by Vice-chair, Mike Warwick

7:15 pm Vice-chair Warwick called the meeting to order before a quorum was present in order to proceed with Emanuel Hospital’s annual review, as required by the Institutional Management Plan (IMP) it has with Eliot and Boise Neighborhood Associations.

Present: Mike, Montse, Phil, and Paul. Visitors from Emanuel were present as was one neighbor/resident.

Continue reading LUTC Minutes 2016-11-14

Welcome to the Neighborhood?

N/NE Quadrant PlanThe future of Eliot was hotly debated during the NE Quadrant (NEQ) plan process with most of the NE neighborhood representatives opposing widening I-5, replacement of the overpasses with “lids,” and the Hancock overcrossing. The NEQ increased allowed building height and density along Broadway and in the area across Broadway from the Rose Quarter. City Planners believe the new lid and Hancock extension will “reconnect” Eliot to a new “Pearl District East” development across Broadway from the Rose Quarter and along Broadway on Eliot’s southern edge.

Continue reading Welcome to the Neighborhood?

I-5 Overpass Reconstruction Moving Forward

I-5 Overpass Reconstruction
I-5 Overpass Reconstruction

“The Box”

The recently adopted NE Quadrant Plan (a part of the Central City and Comprehensive Plans) was conducted in cooperation with the Transportation offices of the State (ODOT) and City (PDOT) to coordinate ODOT’s plans to expand capacity on I-5 through the Rose Quarter and the I-5 ramps with PDOT’s plans for the area between at Broadway/Weidler, an area known as “the Box”.

Continue reading I-5 Overpass Reconstruction Moving Forward

LUTC Minutes 2016-02-08

Eliot Neighborhood Association
Land Use Committee
Minutes for February 8, 2016

Committee Members present: Mike, Phil, Allan, Clint, Paul, Laurie and Montse

Guests from the neighborhood:  Kelly Gillard

Presenters from Solterra:  Josh Guerra, Justin Church, Tim Dudly, and Melynda Retawick (?)

Meeting was called to order by the Chair at 7 PM

Continue reading LUTC Minutes 2016-02-08

Pending Sewer Work

Sewer Repair Map
Map of South Eliot sewer repair project.

Residents of south Eliot and others may have noticed all of the colored paint on the street, sidewalk and even parking strips as well as surveyors blocking traffic on MLK weekend mornings.  This is all part of planning for the City’s South Eliot Sewer and Storm Water Project. The project is tentatively scheduled to begin in the spring of 2017, so it is a ways off.

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PDX Reporter App

PDX Reporter App
PDX Reporter App

Don’t know who to call to complain about graffiti or abandoned cars or other urban nuisances?  Well, there is a “app” for that.  The app is provided through PBOT so the reports are limited to abandoned autos, debris in the road, graffiti, illegal parking, park maintenance needs, plugged street drains, potholes, sidewalk complaints and failed or failing streetlights.

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